Princess Nathalie’s fairy tale






Princess Nathalie Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein is anything but the Princess on the pea – the famous fairy tale by the Danish story teller, Hans Christian Andersen. We visited the Danish princess after she had just won silver at the 2011 World Cup finals – less than a year after having given birth to her very first child.  


By Camilla Alfthan, photos Linda Kastrup                                                           


The journey to Schloss Berleburg goes through winding roads and dense forests dotted with traditional half-timber houses before it ends on the highest hill of an ancient spa town, just some 150 kilometers north of Frankfurt.

Behind a massive wall lies the historic castle with its white and peach coloured facades that look like they were made of marzipan.  Three years ago, the princess persuaded her father to build a riding ground in the Orangerie, where the castle’s domes and spires make the perfect setpiece to her dressage.

When we meet there in the early of the morning she arrives with her baby boy in a stroller.  Wearing a pale blue fleece, jeans like breeches and a casual pony tail she looks like any other proud mother who is slightly late for work before she hands him over to the babysitter and mounts the first horse of the day.

The dark and imposing gelding that her Danish co-workers have saddled is Digby who gave her silver at the 2011 World Cup finals in Leipzig.

In the ring, the atmosphere is concentrated as they discuss pirouettes and traversades as they criss cross back and forth, repeating the same basic exercises.

A sudden gunshot from the woods briefly interrupts their routine, when Digby jumps around to see where it came from. In a competition his reaction would have been disastrous. The princess, however, merely salutes the invisible shooter with a raised eyebrow. Then they carry on as if nothing had happened.

Before the morning is over she’s been through four horses.


The horses oblige


While the horses oblige, the princess has no official tasks in the royal Danish family.

“They don’t see me very often,” she smiles. “If  there’s a wedding or a christening on the same day as an event I will chose the event –  after all, the horses are my life,” tells Nathalie who was literally born into the equestrian world.

Her mother is princess Benedikte, the younger sister of the Danish Queen, Margrethe II, who moved to Berleburg when she married the German estate owner, prince Richard of Berleburg . At 68, princess Benedikte an avid rider as well as the patroness of the Danish Warmblood organization which boasts some of the world’s best dressage horses.


Her own breeding operation began by a coincidence in 1991 when a riding master suggested that she should make a foal from her Danish ridehorse, Pamina. When she went over a German stud book there were only two stallions which were suitable for dressage. One was the legendary Donnerhall who ended up fathering three offsprings at Berleburg, including the now 16-year old Digby.


A roll in the mud to perform well


“No one ever believed in him but I always did. I never thought that he’d go over 70 per cent but I always knew he’d be able to do a Grand Prix. Basically, it is about patience. If he’s not up to it we have to give him a break, and then he’s back the next day or four days later.

Even if he’s a top athlete he also has to live like a normal horse –  roll in the mud and eat grass, so that he can perform well when we compete,” tells Nathalie who witnessed some of his most remarkable improvements without making any changes in their daily training.

“Over the winter he gradually gained strength in his hind legs and his back so that his movements became more expressive.

It is a different feeling now when I ride him, as he’s a little bit stronger in the hand. But it is a strength that I can work with and not one, where I’m just a passenger. But I had to get used to this new feeling,” she tells.



Digby in the Orangerie

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